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Rediscovering the Forgotten Women of the Bauhaus, A Reading List

Influential, brilliant, bold, essential—the Bauhaus women come alive again in these books.

Image Courtesy Tachen

With the centenary of the Bauhaus upon us, there’s a new round of interest (and writing) about the school’s acknowledged masters: Gropius, Le Corbusier, Mies, and so on. But we do history and ourselves a disservice when we concentrate solely on those brilliant, imperious men with their serious faces, serious buildings, and wide lapels.

Inside and around the Bauhaus was a circle of equally talented—though less acknowledged—women whose contributions were no less essential (even if they are often less visible). On the 100th anniversary of the school’s foundation, it’s time to bring them and their works back into the spotlight, and there’s no better way to do that than with a dive into books that capture and celebrate who they were and what they achieved.

“Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective”

It’s probably best to think of this as the essential volume on the women at the school, their works and lives, and the intersection of sexual politics and creativity. Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler, both of them acknowledged experts on this particular corner of design history, offer up profiles of no less than 45 women along with all the context needed to understand why they matter in the larger story of global design. $36 at Amazon.

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“Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Vienna 1898-Auschwitz 1944”

Fewer stories in the history of the Bauhaus better typify the wide contributions of women to it than that of the multi-hyphenate Dicker-Brandeis (a painter, an illustrator, a typographist, a bookmaker, a teacher, and a textile artist, she dove into the aesthetics of the new school with a certain unbound drive). Fewer stories in the history of the Bauhaus also end as tragically. This book tracks her work from her beginnings in the creatively fecund Vienna of the 1910’s, to her death at Auschwitz during World War II. For those who want to dive deeper into her life, this touching survey of her young art students—many of whom suffered the same fate—is a must.  $50 at Amazon.

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“Bauhausmädels: A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artists”

If Rössler’s previous book above is the detailed, contextualized survey one needs to understand women at the Bauhaus, then this more visual, more emotional offering is what one needs to care about them. Here, through 400 photos, quotes, and quick biographies, the lives, struggles, and personalities of 87 artists and artisans come off the page in three dimensions—a touching celebration of the often uncelebrated. $34 at Amazon.

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“Lilly Reich: Designer and Architect”

Relative to her creative and marital partner, Mies van der Rohe, Reich is near unknown. And yet, many experts feel that without her, Mies never would have become known as a revolutionary furniture designer. Indeed, there are arguments that Reich was more than essential to some of his more celebrated designs—she was the main force behind them. This book takes us through her works, both those produced in Mies’ shadow and those created under her own name. $50 at Amazon.

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“Bauhaus Women: Art, Handicraft, Design”

For all the Bauhaus’ self-claimed progressiveness, a deep misogyny lingered in its structure. While many of its women students positively pursued textiles, painting, and pottery, there was also a conscious effort among the school’s leaders to steer members of that sex toward these more traditionally feminine craft areas and away from, say, architecture. This volume captures how—even with those strictures in place—the women of the Bauhaus flourished, creating works that would change those fields forever. Pair this with this equally worthy book that approaches the issue from the same angle, but with a tighter focus on the Bauhaus’ textile heritage. $45 at Amazon.

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“Anni Albers”

On the subject of Bauhausian textile making, the school’s leader in that field was most likely Anni Albers, an artist much overlooked, but essential to the artistic evolution of her craft. Here, a team of expert authors do the hard, good work of returning Albers to us, and establishing her as a visionary creative and teacher whose work influenced far more than textile design. For those who’ve digested this survey, this journey into Albers’ own writings on art, design, and creativity is the next logical step. $34 at Amazon.

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“Lucia Moholy: Between Photography and Life 1894-1989”

Another titanic talent who was nonetheless eclipsed by her famous husband was photographer and artist Lucia Moholy, the wife of Bauhaus star László Moholy-Nagy. It’s a shame, for the eyes and camera that captured the school at its most productive were Moholy’s. More than that, though, her work greatly contributed to the establishment of photography as a modern, experimental art form in the early part of the 20th Century. This stunning, illuminating volume gives at least some of that credit back to her. $207 at Amazon.

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“Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics”

Elizabeth Otto offers up another one of her intriguing and essential explorations of sexual issues in the context of the Bauhaus, this time with coverage of the spirituality and politics that went along with them. Indeed, the Bauhaus was not only an interesting—if problematic—space for women, it was a locus of gender complexity, queerness, and other themes relevant not just in its Weimar Republic historical context, but today as well. As an addendum, Otto has also compiled this offering of scholarly essays on the same subject matter. $35 at Amazon.

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Surface’s expert editors selected and believe in every, single, one of these products. Any purchases you make using these links may earn us a commission.

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